Posted by Dr. Don Jenrette
I’ve been in the chemical abuse business most of my life – first, while growing up in a family deep in it, second, as an Air Force active duty drug and alcohol abuse counselor, and third, working with the Air Force Reserve Command as the command’s Drug Demand Reduction Program Manager.
Chemical abuse by family members and friends in my small rural Southern town included alcohol abuse, marijuana use, and sniffing glue. Looking back on it now, I think most if not all of my family members and friends knew about that chemical abuse but chose to do nothing about it. It took me years to understand why. While some thought the chemical abuse would eventually subside, some really knew better – it got worse. Most never thought of the physical, mental, social, and spiritual long-term effects of continued chemical abuse, but it happened. Physically, their bodies were wrecked with numerous medical problems. Mentally, they kept delusional “stinking thinking”, choosing to think it was everyone else’s fault and not theirs. Socially, they were “alone in a crowd”, silently and hopefully seeking a way out. Spiritually, they continually disavowed any knowledge of a higher power, instead turning to the chemical of choice as their savior – only for snippets in time.
As an AF active duty drug and alcohol abuse counselor working with those experiencing chemical abuse, and their family members, I learned first-hand the tremendous cost to them because of their choices. Lost relationships with family and friends and time they’ll never regain with them, financial ruin, medical issues on top of medical issues, covering up lies with more lies and more lies, caught in a trap and numerous times pledging not to continue the downward spiral but succumbing to the familiar, after experiencing those “failures” they draw into a self-imposed cocoon of shame, guilt, defiance, and hopelessness. I learned that the last place the effects of chemical abuse show its ugly face is in the workplace – unfortunately. However, close family and friends have known about the chemical abuse for a while. I learned the saying “when you get sick and tired of being sick and tired”, the family takes the leap of faith by seeking information and help for the chemical abuse. If a family member was experiencing symptoms showing cancer, wouldn’t family members do everything in their power to get information and help?
As the Drug Demand Reduction Program Manager for the Air Force Reserve Command, with responsibility for workplace drug testing and substance abuse prevention education dissemination, I learned it’s much easier to detect someone with a chemical abuse problem than it is to deter someone. Include reluctance for the family to come forward with the dynamics of a Citizen Airman holding down a military role and living and working a full time civilian lifestyle. There’s fear of “losing face” with co-workers, fear of losing their AF reserve job and the financial impact of that loss. Those fears are miniscule compared to the long-lasting negative physical, mental, social, and spiritual effects of continued chemical abuse to the person and the family and friends.
So, what do you do? There are many avenues to take but the first is to get smart with all the information about chemical abuse and its associated behavioral issues to include the insidious nature of its hold. Second, seek family members who have experienced the results of chemical abuse and are now taking it “One Day at A Time”. And third, learn to practice “tough love”; initially those on the receiving end of it deny that its necessary but deep down know it’s the best thing for them.
Don’t give up!
Dr. Don Jenrette is the Air Force Reserve Command’s Drug Demand Reduction Program Manager with fifteen years of civil service experience and 24 years of active duty AF service. He’s earned a BS degree from Troy University, Alabama, in Psychology, an MS degree from the University of Southern Mississippi in Criminology, and a Doctor of Education degree in Occupational Studies from the University of Georgia. He also serves as an Adjunct Professor with two colleges and serves as a Deacon in his church. More importantly, he values his life experiences away from the classroom.